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Understanding temper tantrums (Self-regulation)

November 14, 2017


If you are a parent or guardian, the chances that you have experienced a tantrum is likely. We usually expect them in toddlers. However if your chid reaches school age and meltdowns and outbursts are still frequently occurring, it may be a sign that your child has difficulty with emotional self-regulation. 


Self-regulation refers to the ability to manage ones emotions and behaviour in accordance with the demands of the situation. 


This includes everything from:

  • Resisting highly emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli 

  • Calming ones self down when feeling upset 

  • Handling frustration without an outburst 

  • Adjusting ones reactions to differing situations


Self-regulation is a set of skills which allows children to manage their own behaviour towards a goal as they mature, without unpredictability of the world interfering with their feelings. It is crucial to our ability to form relationships with others in acceptable ways. 


Self-regulation can also refer to the ability to regulate our level of arousal. This means how calm or how excited we are. This is expressed typically in two ways. Outwardly it is expressed by our emotions and inwardly by our physiological body response including increased heart beat and shallow breathing.


Fun activities to assist with self-regulation:


Note: When choosing activities keep in mind your child’s developmental level. 


Breathing activities:

- Pretend to blow out birthday candles 

- Role play blowing up balloons


Physical activities:

- Simple stretches including touching toes, reaching arms above your head and sitting in straddle

- Attending yoga classes or completing yoga exercises at home 

- Tense and relax different body parts 


Creative thinking activities:

- Use stories to explain social situations 

- Role play ways to deal with emotions in certain situations


Positive self-talk acitivities:

- Use words such as "I can" as frequently as possible 

- Create a goals chart 





Eisenberg, N., Valiente, C., & Eggum, N. (2010). Self-Regulation and School Readiness. Early Education & Development, 21(5), 681-698.

Blair, C., & Raver, C. (2015). School Readiness and Self-Regulation: A Developmental Psychobiological Approach. Annual Review of Psychology, 66, 711-731.

Montroy, J., Bowles, R., Skibbe, L., McClelland, M., & Morrison, F. (n.d.). The Development of Self-Regulation Across Early Childhood. Developmental Psychology, Developmental Psychology, 2016.